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Art on wheels. (Children's art diary).

My daughter, Ana's, purple 1950s Schwinn was so big and heavy, that I had to walk it for her. She wanted the wide-tired "tank" (found at a flea market) because of its imposing color and because it had not one, but two baskets--a wicker basket in the front and a wire one in the back.

While I pushed the bike, she picked up street treasures to fill both baskets and placed the overflow in my pockets. During autumn, leaves were woven through the baskets, and fresh wild flowers filled it like a vase, during the summer. I proudly wheeled Ana's living displays of forms and colors around.

I also learned to admire other children's bikes in the neighborhood and often asked to photograph their bike artistry. Children's bikes undergo remarkable alterations by owners who dress up handle bars, decorate the frame with stickers and flags, and weave noise-making beads through wheel spokes.

Children enjoy seeing my early works, and it's fun to share photographs of my first bike. Its frame was basic black, since color choices were limited in Europe after the war, but the bike looked anything but basic. Among its exciting attachments was a sculptural fitting of found, bright chrome pipes, my make-believe motor and dream of a motorized bike.

With future art teachers (i.e. art education students), we often visit the bike accessory aisles in stores to learn about the latest items available to the bicycle decorator's palette. In these aisles reside the most interesting striping tapes, self-adhesive reflector shapes, and camouflage seat covers. Many other children's play creations move on wheels, glide on skateboards, piggyback behind pull toys, or could be entered in custom car shows.

COLLECTING WHEELS Wheels move children's toys and help them to keep up with active players. Creative dreams are mobilized by spinning wheels. Every child discovers the excitement of the wheel and the vast possibilities it offers. Tiny Lego[R] wheels acquire large fantasies, constructed over them. As a child in Hungary, when most things were scarce, I collected ball bearings, which flew out from the wheels of army trucks. I admired these tough forms and their delicate movements and converted them into play scooters, racers and other things the metal wheels suggested.

After our neighborhood bike shop closes on Monday evenings, fabulous deposits are left on the sidewalk for the next day's trash. In the twilight, my children and I start to prepare the haul to school. Like a true ball-bearing hunter, Ana finds fabulous ideas in each discarded spoke, training wheel and used tire. Future Ferris wheels, rolling printers or moon explorers all start as ideas on the sidewalk. We can encourage children to develop their own wheel sources, to share their best wheels, casters or tire finds, and complete plans for their use with the art class.

DECORATING OBJECTS WITH WHEELS In the art room, eager students who love to assist with setting up my childhood train set, help to move all furniture aside. But why all the stickers on the railroad cars, and why was the locomotive painted with nail polish? I was not a destructive child, but I repainted the tracks to simply make my favorite rolling toys more attractive. In the art class, we expand the modest layout into an elaborate imaginary track system with new cars, tunnels and bridges. We add rail yards, stations and scenery. Of course, the children sticker and decorate all their railroad creations on wheels.

Ana's childhood doll carriage makes regular appearances in our art class. She decorated the ragtop, pink carriage with pillow creations and pictures advertising her favorite dolls on the sides. She constructed additional storage compartments from boxes wrapped in fabrics and ribbons. The boxes hang from the carriage handle and sit over the main frame, jingling on a chain attached to the carriages and carts, customizing what is important to share with other vehicle artists.

From the art-class toy chest, different wheeled objects can be rounded up for conversion. Plastic toy trucks, red Radio Flyer[R] wagons and Matchbox[R] cars are overhauled with new colors, foil armor, paper and plastic wraps, fringes and banners to be proudly paraded down school hallways.


Ready to roll, 25 brightly painted skateboards line the center of the art room. Our theme is the Macys' Thanksgiving Day Parade. Children designed floats to ride on top of the rolling skateboard platforms. Using fancy woven and dyed cords, the children steer their floats like pull toys. The floats transport children's characters and settings. Each float is highly detailed, down to its decorative new hubcaps. Wanted: old, clip-on style four-wheeled roller skates that no child would want to be seen wearing today, to serve as future platforms for art-room pull-toy designers. Unusual fast-food trays, revolving Rubbermaid[R] platforms and exciting box tops are some of our best chassis to mount over wheels.

The love of pull toys stays with most of us for a lifetime. We mount lunch boxes on rolling platforms and convert them into circus trains. We also study the incredible art history of the Fisher-Price[R] Co., Gong Bell and Slinky[R] pull toys as well as other lesser-known works of American pull-toy sculptors. Children at home like to push, pull and carry their stuff whenever they go. We learn from children pulling or pushing their wheeled toy phones, banks or toy carrying cases. We learn to question whether each art lesson could be moved, carried or placed on wheels.

When we notice how children like to steer suitcases on wheels at the airport, a used suitcase collection for art-class designers naturally follows. After we talk about how children love to be pushed inside shopping carts--and later to command and steer their own shopping carts--we will find play carts and historic examples of vintage shopping carts for our art class. Our plays and art explorations simply extend kids' interests in contemporary wheeled platforms and containers, which we redesign, refill and redecorate.


Recently our art class walked down to the shopping center to meet the visiting giant Hershey[R]'s Kiss Mobile. Children were excited to see one of their favorite foods on wheels. They were inspired on our walk back with ideas of other forms in our world that are already on wheels--and what else could be mobilized.

Could we mount personal wheels to get around more efficiently in the city? How could our pets be put on wheels? Could our entire lunch, not just a piece of chocolate, be on wheels? And so the conversation flowed, with many plans for adding wheels to school backpacks and lunch boxes.

Children are inventors; inventing is one of their great art forms. For mechanical inventors, we need to have available as a basic supply in an art room, a large trunk of assorted wheels with which artists can experiment.

A FINAL SPIN Today was a momentous occasion in our home. It marked a long distance of memories, from pushing our child in her carriage, to walking with her and her own play-carriage up and down our street. Ana took her driving test today and, for her, the romance with the wheel continues. As we walk up the ramp toward the drivers' test site, she says, "After this test, I will be free, Dad, you will never see me again." I was a little shaken by her comment and would have been quite willing to cancel the road test, if it meant losing my daughter.

There was no turning back, however, and even if I secretly wished she would not get her license this day, I had to smile as she waved, driving by with the examiner. Perhaps young wheel artists are preparing to move by us from the start. Maybe they decorate their tricycles, roller skates and skateboards to celebrate each step in their freedom and independence in life through their art.

As parents and art teachers, we need to pay attention to important occasions on wheels and learn from how children place their stuff, their collections, their art and themselves on wheels--just moving toward the day they will drive away.

Professor George Szekely is Senior Professor of Art Education at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. Currently, he serves as President of the Kentucky Art Education Association, and Vice President of the National Art Education Association.
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Author:Szekely, George
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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